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All for Nothing

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,432 ratings  ·  259 reviews
Previously published in German as Alles umsonst.
A wealthy family tries--and fails--to seal themselves off from the chaos of post-World War II life surrounding them in this stunning novel by one of Germany's most important post-war writers.
In East Prussia, January 1945, the German forces are in retreat and the Red Army is approaching. The von Globig family's manor house,
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Published 2006
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  1,432 ratings  ·  259 reviews


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Michael Finocchiaro
Walter Kempowski's All for Nothing is a breathtaking book about life inside Nazi Germany (and more specifically in current day Poland which the Nazis had annexed in 1939). I found it even more moving than the far less poetic (if far more Hollywoodian) The Book Thief, more factual than The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I think it bears some comparison to the Danzig trilogy by Günter Grass which I adored (The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years), and it takes place not far away. It is interesting to note ...more
Dem
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war
A disappointing read !

I was drawn to this this Novel firstly by the beautiful cover and secondly by the book's description on the inside cover.

While away shopping at Christmas I spent quite a long time in a beautiful bookshop (which was a rare threat for me as I don't have a good book shop locally anymore) and decided to stock up on a few books. I found my self picking up books and then going to goodreads on my phone to see what rating they had got or what my friends had throught of them and
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Dax
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deep and complex even with its understated delivery. I imagine a lot of readers felt this style diminished the novels impact, however the story was actually more impactful because of this approach: it illustrated how war minimalizes an individuals significance. Kempowski spends 2/3rds of the book building his characters, and then in the final chapters they are swept away almost as an afterthought. And that is the point. 300,000 refugees died during this refugee trek in the winter of 1945, most ...more
Maciek
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Walter Kempowski is a German author best known for his historical novels and a ten volume series Das Echolot (The Sonar), for which he assembled letters, journals and memories of witnesses of World War 2. Of all the volumes only one has been translated from German - the last one, Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich. I've read it with great interest and it has brought in me an interest in his other works, of which I picked this novel.

All for Nothing is his last
...more
Lesley
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a totally unknown quantity to me. It is translated from the German language, and seems to be about a closed-off aristocratic family in a big house in East Prussia. At first, I thought- "oh it's a parade of people calling at the house!" but in fact it's more complex than that.
It is the January of 1945 and the family are aware of refugees moving from the East, of troops retreating, of the imminent danger of Russian invasion. But they all seem to be in a state of inertia. There is
...more
Melanie Vidrine
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read many novels set during WWII. Most of them feature relationships between various characters, interweaving both fictional and realistic events, tragedy aplenty but some hopeful possibilities, as well. It has been years since I read such an existential work. This German author exposes the horror of life in his homeland at the end of the war, no sentimental claptrap, no heroic efforts on anyone’s part. And yet, I cared deeply about the lives of these people, none of whom were ...more
Joan Kerr
Mar 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'You have destroyed/this lovely world'

There’s a huge amount of stuff in 'All For Nothing' – dinner sets, underwear, dolls’ houses, silver teaspoons, bedsheets, table linen, dresses, suits, fur hats and hats with feathers, telescopes, books, letters, photographs, maps, brochures, lutes, sewing machines, grandfather clocks. Possessions stand for people’s disbelief in what’s happening. Crates in the old drawing room of the Georgenhof estate in East Prussia hold the possessions of the von Globigs’
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Marks54
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a novel about the story of an aristocratic family in East Prussia in January 1945. The war has been lost, the barbarians are at the gate, there is nowhere to go, and people are beginning to realize that everything is not going to turn out well - at all - although most of the characters seem intent on not coming to grips with the situation. Questions abound concerning where events are leading, how everything will turn out, and what the point of the war was - hence the title. This is a ...more
Cerisaye
This is a novel that reads like a documentary of ordinary German experience of imminent defeat, with the Red Army advancing into east Prussia, intent on vengeance for what was done to Russians when it was the Germans doing the invading. I must admit to having known little to nothing of the evacuation of east Prussia that events in the book build towards, following destruction by Allied bombing of the city then known as Königsberg (today Kaliningrad) in January 1945. Kempowski's depiction of the ...more
Mary Warnement
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: berlin, subway, fiction
This novel's scenes and the songs/folklore/movies invoked throughout were no doubt informed by the intensive research he did for his Echolot, or Sonar Soundings, only the last volume translated as Swanson 1945. I started reading the introduction and it's moving up my list. But this is fiction, a family story at heart, but the refugees passing through Prussia in the final months of WWII are major characters too. This is an extremely literary work, with not only snippets of verse but many authors ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Walter Kempowski was almost 80 years old when he wrot e this account of the final winter of WWII, with the central character being a 12 year old boy who may or may not have been based on himself. Focussing on the evacuation of the German population out of East Prussia in the approach of Soviet troops, it begins almost languorously in a crumbling manor house, but accelerates as danger advances. The members of the household are almost checkovian in character and denial of the end of a world ...more
Caroline
This book is the November 2016 title for the War and Literature readalong. It is set in Eastern Germany in the closing stages of the Second World War and follows the fortunes of an aristocratic family who have hitherto been sheltered from the chaos of the war. It is a bleak but realistic portrayal of what life was like in Germany. The readalong frequently introduces me to books and authors and I am pleased to have read this book. 'Enjoy' isn't quite the right word but it felt important and at ...more
Steve
Dec 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the development of this story. It seemed at first to be mere portraiture, but it turned out to be a story very much in development and leading to actual plot. And the portraiture was lovely and not overdone. The book struck me as straightforward and revealing with regard to the characters it followed. An easy read that I'd recommend to fans either of ww2, historical fiction, or of portraiture (whatever I mean by that). (Note: I read the 2015 English translation that I couldn't ...more
Ernie
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant story of Germans in 1945
The equally brilliant translator Anthea Bell captures the unique narrative voice of the third person teller of these events. It is by turns naive and dispassionate, eventually passing through the points of view of several characters who should have known better, before settling into the character of the 12 year old boy Peter. Despite the Russian army being close in German East Prussia, the Nazis still administer and over-organise the refugees. I was reminded of
...more
Louise
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have just finished this and I am astounded. I loved it. I liked the gentle pace of description and character building during the first part and the last few chapters made me feel like I was punched in the stomach.
I often wonder what would I do in a dire situation would I make the right choices, could I save my family?
The only thing I didn't like was the song lyrics and poems they didn't enhance the story for me and after half way I began just glossing past them. I read this in English and I
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Annette
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply and beautifully written with increasing sense of menace and doom as the Russians approach and the vulnerable, genteel family within the house seem to ignore the disaster headed their way.

This novel is full of little details and snapshots of life in Prussia as people pretend nothing is wrong - it had me screaming at the book 'get the hell out of there.'

Excellent.
Annette Smith
Sep 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Beautifully written, dramatically understated and very bleak
Christine
There are some beautiful passages in this book, yet, I found myself having trouble warming to it.
Matthew Ogborn
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I happened upon this book in the airport en route to Salzburg and a new freelance job. It helped me to get into the Austro-Germanic mindset but, more importantly, it was a beautifully written account of what ended up being a tragic series of events at the back end of World War II. There are not many writers who can write across ages, classes and countries, however Kempowski is one of them. He draws you in slowly but surely detailing the everyday lives of an eclectic band of people in and around ...more
James Murphy
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a historical novel set in East Prussia in January, 1945. On a hill near villages so small they're not on a map sets the manor house of the von Globig family, the Georgenhof. The residents of the house watch with interest as the road running below slowly fills day by day with retreating German units and increasing numbers of refugees fleeing the impending arrival of the fearsome Soviet armies. The Russians remain just over the horizon of the novel. That we never see them doesn't remove ...more
Daniel Polansky
An upper-class family in Eastern Germany during the final days of World War II, trying to survive the coming collapse of their society, a long overdue reckoning, the terrors of which are certain to fall indiscriminately among the population. Interspersed with a surreal absurdism is an acute appreciation of the meaninglessness (?) of individual morality against the nightmarish circumstances. Surely it is only coincidence that I’ve been lately drawn to the works of post-war German writers, their ...more
The Literary Chick
All For Nothing, recently released by The New York Review of Books, takes place in East Prussia in winter of 1945 when the German army is in retreat and the Red Army is rapidly encroaching. There is a mass exodus of refugees fleeing in below zero weather, with over 300,000 perishing. The well-to-do von Globig family goes about its insulated days in its warm and comfortable manor, the Georgenhof, barely registering the imminent doom they face. Although Katharina, the mother with her head in the ...more
Nicolaus Stengl
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kempowski’s novel, “All for Nothing,” excellently translated by Anthea Bell,who's known for her translations of works such as Sebald’s Austerlitz, Szpilman’s The Pianist, and many of Zweig’s works, depicts the uneasy final weeks of WWII. The novel focuses on the Globig family and the lives of those living, visiting, and seeking refuge in the Georgenhof. Possibly one could describe the novel as a work of realism. However, the shifts in the first person narration, which can sometimes occur ...more
Gerald Wright
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
A great novel that goes deep into what happens to the human spirit when the humans themselves are facing the end of their world, the beginning of the real and final end of Nazi Eastern Germany. Don't expect it to be uplifting. The narrator flies in and out of the minds and experiences of dozens of characters, major and minor, and some animals as well. And what we see are people who maintain hope, a will to live and a positive self-image- while at the same time acting overwhelmingly selfishly and ...more
Elizabeth
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very glad this was recommended to me because it captures a specific aspect of WWII (the denial/insulation of the wealthy) that I find fascinating and was also examined in The Hare with the Amber Eyes and The Invisible Bridge. All For Nothing was exceedingly well-written, with a strong sense of place and vivid characters -- I'm still thinking about it a few weeks later and will definitely be recommending to others.
Karen
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had expected to like this more than I did. It reminded me a bit of "Suite Francaise" - people living on the edge of invasion becoming (understandably) obsessed by what to take with them when they flee. Unfortunately I just found it all a bit dull and I could not muster much interest in the characters of their eventual fates. I did however really like the front cover.
Tina
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I stayed up til 2:30 in the morning reading this. I could not put it down. Tells what it was like for German citizens toward the end of WW2 when they had ro flee the Russians and become refugees. Good characters, really good plot. Has a great surprise ending.
pam
Aug 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read in a long time. Brilliant.
Annie
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are two paired questions I hear all the time from students studying World War II. The first is, how much did ordinary Germans know about the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. The second is, how could they not know what was happening? In Walter Kempowski’s All for Nothing (translated by Anthea Bell), we see a small family of aristocratic Germans who are so clueless about what was happening outside of themselves that I wanted to scream at them. This disturbing novel ...more
AC
Disappointing, over-hyped. Gave up. Maybe others will like it better.
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Walter Kempowski was a German writer. He was known for his series of novels called German Chronicle ("Deutsche Chronik") and the monumental Echolot ("Sonar"), a collage of autobiographical reports, letters and other documents by contemporary witnesses of the Second World War.
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